Profiles

STEMinist Profile: Sarah Chmielewski, Software Engineer

Sarah Chmielewski

Sarah Chmielewski

Software Engineer

Organization: MIT Lincoln Laboratory by day, President of the Society of Women Engineers Boston section by night

What inspired you to pursue a career in STEM?
I enjoy challenges, so when I began my undergraduate education at the University of Florida, I asked, “What is the most difficult major?” Most would say a degree in engineering, so I decided my freshman year that I was going to be an engineer. I then took an Introduction to Engineering course, which provided a glimpse into the various engineering degree options at the university.

Every week, we would visit a different department to learn what kind of problems engineers in those fields faced. Computer Engineering stuck out to me because it was so new and up-and-coming. I also liked the idea of working on cutting-edge technologies.

What is the coolest project you have worked on and why?
The coolest project I ever worked on was a robot during my senior year at the University of Florida at the Machine Intelligence Laboratory. The project was to build a robot from scratch – including designing and milling the robot structure, adding various electronics and sensors, and finally programming the robot to have behaviors – all in one summer and all completely independently.

For the project, I took apart a toy tank and added IR sensors for avoidance detection, a microcontroller for controlling the servos and sensors, and a motion detection sensor so that the tank would shoot pellets at moving targets. It was a lot of fun; although I think Mechanical Engineers would have cringed at my extensive use of hot glue. My robot could definitely have benefited from some inter-disciplinary teamwork.

Role models and heroes:
My mother always taught me to be curious about the world around us. She is a pharmacist, so she enjoyed the sciences – biology, anatomy, and chemistry especially. She encouraged us to explore the world around us and to challenge ourselves. As a student in college in the 60s, she met with negative stereotypes and unfortunately was discouraged from fulfilling her dream of becoming a medical doctor. As a result, she tried to teach us discernment and introspection – it’s important to take into consideration another person’s opinion, but never forget to look inside yourself.

Advice for future STEMinists?
Being in a STEM field is extremely rewarding and provides many more opportunities than other fields. As a computer engineer, I spent the first three years of my career working with autonomous underwater vehicles and autonomous ground vehicles with the Navy. I then moved into software development for unmanned aerial vehicles. Now, I work in the exciting field of cyber security. I’m not sure I’d be able to say the same if I had chosen a non-STEM field. So my advice is to challenge yourself – you’ll run into difficulties and certainly you’ll get stumped, but don’t give up.

Favorite website or app: SWE Boston

Twitter: @SarahRuthChm

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